Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Not a lot was expected from #7 Kansas (19-4, 8-0) or #17 Missouri (20-4, 7-2) before the season began, but both have been very good so far, making this evening’s game in Columbia a critical one for the Big 12 standings. A Kansas win would put them a full three games ahead of the Tigers, so Missouri has got to get a result to stay close.
Kansas had an up-and-down non-conference schedule, picking up good wins over Washington and Tennessee, but losing twice on a semi-home floor in Kansas City, including a surprise defeat to UMASS. Since Big 12 play began, though, the Jayhawks have looked more and more like defending national champions, reeling off 8 consecutive conference wins. This includes beating the likes of Baylor, Kansas St. and Nebraska, but it is worth noting that they Jayhawks have not yet played Missouri, Texas or Oklahoma. Missouri has quietly put together a very respectable profile, with the worst of its 4 losses coming at Nebraska and good wins over Texas, USC and Cal. There were some question marks around the Tigers, given their fairly weak non-conference schedule, but they’ve done a pretty good job answering them, and have won 7 of their last 8.
Bill Self has done an excellent job with this very young Kansas team, managing to put together one of the Big 12’s more efficient offenses. The Jayhawks have trouble with turnovers, but do well on the offensive glass, and are excellent shooters, making over 50% of two-pointers and a good percentage of long-distance shots as well. They also make 73% of free throw attempts, one of the better percentages in the conference. Kansas will need to shoot well, since Missouri will put it under a lot of pressure. The Tigers are one of the nation’s best teams at forcing turnovers, and should be able to cause a lot of havoc for the visitors. Missouri is also excellent at defending the three-point shot, though Kansas don’t shoot from behind the arc enough to be hurt too much by this.
Missouri has a spectacular offense, one of the nation’s most efficient units. The two keys for the Tigers’ offense are turnovers and inside scoring, two areas where they are highly placed in the national rankings. Missouri makes 54% of its attempts from inside, and is the Big 12’s best team at preventing turnovers, despite playing at quite a fast pace. One thing to watch in the closing moments of the game is free throw shooting, as the Tigers are under 66% on the season from the line. Kansas should be an interesting defensive matchup for Missouri, as the Jayhawks are excellent at stopping opponents inside, setting up a good strength-to-strength battle in the paint. Kansas also do well on the defensive glass, but don’t force a lot of turnovers, and the turnover margin between the two teams will likely give Missouri a good number of extra possessions.
As mentioned, Kansas is a very young team, with only a single upperclassmen playing significant minutes, junior Sherron Collins. Collins’ role has substantially increased this season, but he’s managed to hold his percentages fairly even, while managing to get to the free throw line a lot more often. He leads the team in both assists and points, and has been key to Kansas’ offensive success. Cole Aldrich has also stepped his play, showing an excellent inside scoring touch and being one of the team’s best free throw shooters. Aldrich has hit over 60% of attempts from the field, and sits first in the Big 12 in shot-blocks and second in rebounding. Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar start alongside Collins in the backcourt; Morningstar is a good three point shooter who commits very few turnovers, while Taylor is an efficient scorer from inside the arc, but hasn’t had a lot of success from three. Tyrell Reed is another good shooter who can come off the bench. Mario Little, one of the nation’s top junior college players last year, has recently found himself getting a lot of minute; he’s a 6-5 guard, but gets most of his chances inside, where he’s been very efficient, shooting 60% and also chipping in on the boards. The main help for Aldrich inside comes from the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. Markieff is a decent shooter, and is good on the glass, but plays relatively little, partly because of his struggles with foul trouble. Marcus has been a solid rebounder, and has seen his offensive numbers improve somewhat in recent weeks. Both brothers are fairly poor free throw shooters, the two worst on the team.
Looking just at the minutes-per-game breakdown of the Tigers’ roster, you see a very deep, balanced team, but make no mistake, there are two clear top dogs (or is that cats?) for Missouri. Senior DeMarre Carroll leads the team in both points and rebounds, and is very efficient in doing so, shooting 58% from the field, getting to the line quite often and getting a fair number of steals and blocks. The second key player is 6-9 senior Leo Lyons, who recently returned to the starting line-up after facing suspension due to some traffic violations. Lyons isn’t quite as good as Carroll, but is very solid, a good shooter and rebounder who does a lot of damage at the free throw line. The backcourt situation is a bit less clear-cut, with a lot of players getting minutes. Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller are the two regular starters; Taylor leads the team in assists, and can occasionally break out with big scoring games, while Tiller is a solid defensive player, but struggles with his three-point shot. Freshman Kim English has recently stepped into a starting role: he provides an excellent long-distance shooting option. Matt Lawrence is another solid shooter who started most of the non-conference schedule. Marcus Denmon is a freshman who can have some big scoring games, while Miguel Paul has seen his minutes disappear of late (perhaps he should ask his ‘cousin’ for help). Keith Ramsey is the main backup in the frontcourt, he had some good games during Carroll’s suspension.
I’m still not totally sold on Kansas, as the Jayhawks have yet to face a quality opponent on the road. The Jayhawks look like a good team, but Missouri’s offense should be able to overwhelm them, and move the Tigers further up in the standings.
Winner: Missouri Margin: 3-7
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Kansas hasn't been terribly good away from home, and this might be their hardest true road game so far. Mizzou needs a big marquee win to impress the selection committee. This should be a highly competitive and entertaining game, but I like the Jayhawks to pull out the very close win.
Early Prediction: Kansas